Tag Archives: Integrative Medicine

Mindfulness a technique to relieve stress

Many teachers of mindfulness suggest visualizing thoughts as leaves floating down a stream or as clouds drifting by in the sky. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

subscribe_blogLeslie Partin

Whether you’re a busy, working parent or a teen trying to balance a full social calendar and school, life can be stressful at times. Mindfulness, otherwise known as mindful meditation or mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR), is a tool any one of us can use as we navigate through the demands of our days.

The basic tenet of mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment. So much of the time we’re thinking ahead to the next task or mulling over something that happened in the past. For example, have you ever driven past the exit you intended to take, only to realize you missed it because you were thinking of something else? When we are caught up in our thoughts, we miss what is happening around us like that missed freeway exit.

Our minds are powerful, and we can harness that power to help us manage difficult experiences and distressing (or afflictive) emotions. When we are in the midst of a strong emotion or physical sensation like anger, sadness, disappointment or physical pain, it can feel like things will never get better. But if we’re able to step back and observe our distress, we may notice that it changes, ebbs and flows. Noticing and recognizing that the intensity varies, whether it’s an emotion or physical sensation, offers hope and reassurance that it won’t always be so hard. And when we focus on what we’re experiencing right now, instead of what’s going to happen — “I don’t want to have a headache at the dance,” “I don’t want to be stressed out at my child’s game,” etc. — then we don’t add the additional suffering of anticipation or worry. We suffer when we focus too much attention on what may happen in the future.

Mindfulness doesn’t mean trying not to think or making one’s mind blank. Instead, mindfulness teaches us to watch our thoughts, observe them while not attaching to them. Many teachers suggest visualizing thoughts as leaves floating down a stream or as clouds drifting by in the sky. Practitioners of meditation say that having a regular “practice” — a time set aside to practice meditation — allows us to develop our capability to be mindful in times of distress. It’s like building our mental muscles in the same way we build physical muscles by lifting weights or working out. Committing to a meditation or mindfulness practice helps us develop those muscles so we have the ability to use them when we need them most.

Neuroscience studies show us that the brain develops neuro-pathways as a result of our thinking habits and patterns. Similar to the way a trail through the woods is developed by animals and people following the same path over and over, our neuro-pathways, or thought habits, are made as we repeatedly take the same path of worry, fear, joy, happiness, etc. Mindfulness is one technique we can use to help form new neuro-pathways or mental habits. When we practice mindfulness we increase awareness of all of our thoughts and emotions, the positive as well as the afflictive ones. We then can choose which thoughts, emotions and sensations we want to focus on and nurture, and of which ones we want to let go. Remembering that we have this choice can help us cope when we hit stressful times.

If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness, here are few links that can help you and your family get started (the first six links are centers that are located in the Twin Cities):

The Kiran Stordalen and Horst Rechelbacher Pediatric Pain, Palliative and Integrative Medicine Clinic at Children’s – Minneapolis has medical providers that work with children to teach relaxation techniques that can include the use of mindfulness. These strategies are helpful for chronic conditions such headaches and abdominal pain or problems with sleep and anxiety.

[1] Jon Kabat-Zinn developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programs in Massachusetts and has several books and CDs, which provide a good starting point. “Everyday Blessings” is his book on mindful parenting, with Myla Kabat-Zinn.

Leslie Partin is a social worker at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Introductions: Dr. Timothy Culbert

Integrative Medicine refers to a philosophy of care that blends the best of “high-tech” conventional cares such as medication, physical therapies, and medical procedures with more natural, less invasive “high-touch” approaches such as massage, relaxation training, acupressure, aromatherapy, nutritional changes, and other so-called “complementary and alternative” medical approaches (also called “CAM”). Other important aspects of an integrative medicine approach include supporting the body’s natural healing capacities and also teaching self-care skills to all patients whenever possible.

My focus in this blog will be to provide you with latest, high-quality information on best practices in integrative care for lots of common problems, including medical issues such as cancer, chronic pain, sleep problems, asthma, and gastrointestinal complaints as well as non-drug, holistic approaches to emotional/behavioral challenges such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and learning disabilities.

There is a large amount of information available – some helpful, some not.

Also, there are some alternative treatments that are just plain dangerous. One of my goals is to help health care consumers understand the balance of risk-to-benefit for a given therapeutic option, state clearly what it is we know (or don’t know) about efficacy, and then support families in making a truly informed choice. We know that you – the healthcare consumers, parents and kids – are using CAM therapies in very large numbers but are not always comfortable talking about them with your doctor. I hope to change that.

In terms of my background, I am board-certified as a developmental/behavioral pediatrician and have extensive additional training in mind/body techniques (biofeedback and hypnosis), holistic therapies, nutrition, and lifestyle approaches. I enjoy working with a whole team of specially trained people to create the best plan for each child/teen we see.

I have always been particularly interested in helping my patients to create self-care “toolkits” as a way to help them in managing symptoms such as pain, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety-or whatever- and we are doing some really cool research in this area to show that what we do really works! I have two teenage children on whom I have “experimented” with a lot of interesting techniques over the years and I am happy to report they are doing well in spite of it!  I have written four books for kids about learning self-care skills and just completed a textbook for clinicians titled “Integrative Pediatrics.”

I spoke on Fox 9 about the book and integrative medicine a few months ago:

I also hope to provide an occasional perspective on preventative care and wellness for kids and families. Issues such as emotional health, stress management, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, over-scheduling, healthy nutrition and changing social and cultural norms all are important to discuss as we rethink our healthcare system and our individual health care practices and goals. As part of this area, I also hope to occasionally provide information for kids and teens in appropriate (and entertaining) language to inform them about new therapies and to encourage them get involved in their own health care decisions and health promoting activities.

I welcome the opportunity to begin what should be an enlightening series of dialogues. What topics would you like me to blog about? Leave a comment below.